Known as the 'Mother of Orphans', Sindhutai Sapkal is the proud recipient of India's highest civilian award dedicated for women.

A 70-year-old Indian social worker, who has raised some 1,400 orphans, shared the lessons she had learnt in life at an event in Abu Dhabi.

Known as the 'Mother of Orphans', Sindhutai Sapkal is the proud recipient of India's highest civilian award dedicated for women.

Life has put Sindhutai through its cruellest tests. Born into abject poverty, she was a victim of child marriage. She had a deplorable marital life - and was left to die in a cowshed at the ninth month of her pregnancy.

"I delivered my baby in a cowshed. It was a cow, which stood guard for me. Today, I look after 350 cows," she told a packed audience during the 31st annual international seminar of the Institute of Chartered Accountants of India (ICAI) Abu Dhabi Chapter.

Sindhutai would hide in a cemetery with her daughter, as she felt it was the safest of all places.

"I was afraid of those alive. People used to call me ghost. We used to survive on leftover food and thrown-away clothes."

She witnessed infants losing their mothers during pregnancy in deserted places, beggars struggling in poverty - all of which made her think about purpose of her life.

"My own family didn't help me. After failed attempts to commit suicide, I found my aim in life - to live for the abandoned."

She was a good singer so she started singing on trains, she recalled.

"I used to get money and food and would share it with other beggars, who would offer protection to me at night," Sindhutai said.

"Then I started adopting abandoned children. I placed my daughter in a trust so that I can be a mother to all. It was a tough but needed decision as I found hundreds of abandoned children. I understood their pain.

"On the way, I won hundreds of awards, including those from Indian Presidents Ram Nath Kovind, Pranab Mukherjee, Pratibha Patil and A.P.J. Abdul Kalam."

Sindhutai used the money she received for an orphanage. All the children she has raised now bear her surname.

"Later, I got my ailing husband into the orphanage. I forgave him. If he hadn't deserted me, I wouldn't have been able to be a mother of thousands of children. I want to embrace more underprivileged, undernourished, pregnant woman in distress," she said.

"Value your mothers and wives. Even a small gesture of appreciation is enough for them."

ashwani@khaleejtimes.com

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